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Sunday
Nov132016

Leon Russell, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singer/Songwriter, Dead at 74

Leon Russell in 1971; Michael Putland/Getty ImagesLeon Russell, the singer and songwriter who wrote some of rock and pop music’s most beloved and enduring songs, has died at age 74.

The news was revealed on Russell’s official website Sunday morning, saying he died in his sleep at his home in Nashville.  No cause of death was given, but Russell had been in declining health for a number of years.  Most recently, he suffered a heart attack last July, from which he was recovering.

In a statement, Russell's wife, Jan Bridges, said, “We thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this very, very difficult time. My husband passed in his sleep in our Nashville home. He was recovering from heart surgery in July and looked forward to getting back on the road in January. We appreciate everyone’s love and support.”

Born in Oklahoma, by the time he released his first, self-titled solo album in 1970, Russell was already a much sought-after session player who backed artists as diverse as the Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and Aretha Franklin.  That first album featured “A Song for You,” which remains one of Russell’s most-covered compositions.  Ray Charles’ recording of it earned him a Grammy in 1993.

Russell’s biggest chart success as a solo artist was his 1972 hit “Tight Rope,” though he charted again with 1975’s “Lady Blue.”  Songs he wrote that were hits for others include “Delta Lady,” a hit for Joe Cocker; “Superstar,” covered by The Carpenters and others; and “This Masquerade,” which George Benson made a top-ten Billboard hit in 1976, earning a Record of the Year Grammy for it.

Russell’s solo popularity declined after the 1970s but he never stopped writing, performing and touring.  He released nearly 40 studio albums, the most recent in 2014.  Four years before that, lifelong fan Elton John collaborated with Russell on the album The Union – their duet on “If It Wasn’t for Bad” earned a Grammy nomination, and the album's recording sessions were turned into an HBO documentary.

On Instagram, Elton wrote, "My darling Leon Russell passed away last night. He was a mentor, inspiration and so kind to me. Thank God we caught up with each other and made The Union. He got his reputation back and felt fulfilled. I loved him and always will. #LeonRussell #RIP #TheHandsOfAngels."

George Benson tweeted, "Today the world lost a talented singer, songwriter, performer and my musical brother, the great #LeonRussell."

Booker T. Jones, Bootsy Collins, Dr. John, Sheryl Crow and Brian Wilson were among the other artists tweeting their sadness at Russell's passing.

In a statement Sunday night, the Recording Academy said, in part, "Grammy recipient Leon Russell's passing leaves us with a profound sense of loss. ...His inquisitive musical nature was a model to be emulated."

Russell, nicknamed "The Master of Space and Time," was inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame in 2011.  His last performance was July 10 in Nashville.

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